What Kind of Mother Are You?

For some reason, when I think of my mother being alongside me during this season of motherhood, I sometimes imagine her shoulder-length red hair, her social boldness, and I imagine her asking me the question, “What kind of mother are you?”

From what I can remember of my mother, this question comes from a story passed down in my family or passed around amongst her friends. These stories mostly about the times the women before me have screwed something up during this season of motherhood, picked themselves back up, and then dusted themselves off to learn from their mistakes. What kind of mother are you, feels more like the punch line in all the ironies of motherhood, much more than deeply rooted criticism.

When my first child was an infant I had dreams of being the perfect mother. Perfection is always the longing of my heart when it comes to most things. However, in God’s goodness, these threads of perfectionism are slowly being unraveled away as I learn to embrace there are no perfect mothers in this world, there are only weak and broken mothers holding fast to the only one who is perfect, Jesus.

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) I need this verse not just in small doses every day, sometimes I need to be walloped upside the head by this truth.

I do not hold up the world when it comes to my children, or my parenting, it is God, the Maker and Sustainer of the universe using our family as a microscopic part in the greater redemptive story of the whole world.

Cue my scary, humbling, story … it has taken me eight months to get to a place where I felt like I could write about this humbling place in motherhood. As you are reading this, visualize me as the clenched teeth emoji.

Last summer I was walloped upside the head with the truth that He must increase, but I must decrease. I am not called to be a superwoman, but I am called to be a super-dependent woman, upheld by the strength of the gospel.

It was Fourth of July Week and my oldest son was experiencing some severe stomach pains. I was certain he had a kidney stone, or his appendix was about to rupture. My son and I spent two back to back nights in the emergency room, I was a walking zombie by the third day. I had slept less than 2 hours at a time in 60 hours. Normally, when my kids are awake, I am awake. Even the slightest inkling of a movement or the onset of vomiting, I jolt awake. Motherhood has given me ninja-like reflexes, even in my deepest of sleeps.

Once my oldest was on the mend, I was able to experiece my first full night of rest. I was beyond exhausted and when my three year old arose for the day at 6am, I walked her down to the television, turned on Bubble Guppies, gave her and her five year old brother who had joined us by this point their morning warm milk, (warming morning milk for my three a five year old is still a crazy thing I do) and told them I’d be back downstairs at seven-zero-zero. In the age of digital time, this is how I communicate seven o’clock to my young children.

The next thing I know, it is eight-thirty and my husband is waking me. God has knitted me together to be an early riser, my husband NEVER has to wake me. As he wakes me he says something like, “Well, the police just rang the doorbell. They asked me if I knew where my children were.”

To my (at the moment) extreme surprise, shock, anger, and shame I discovered my children, while I was sleeping, had opened the front door at seven-zero-zero in the morning, my less than one year old puppy ran out the front door of our home, and my three and five year old chased after our dog to find themselves in a completely different neighborhood. My babies were lost in this big world.

And crying.

My three-year old still in her soaked and droopy to her knees overnight diaper.

A sweet hero woman, called 911 when she found them.

What kind of mother am I? It is so easy to see this question through the damaging lens of shame in this moment. That I am a very bad mother.

Then it is easy to self-justify.

You all. I am a good member of our community. My husband is a good pastor of a Bible believing church. I am a good school teacher. I serve in our local schools as a decent substitute teacher. I lead a very good women’s ministry team at our church. I bring meals to people when they are in need. My resume is neat and tidy.

But none of these good things mattered in this moment. In this moment, the only thing that mattered was: What kind of mother I am. A mother, doing the best she can, one day at a time, firmly clinging to Jesus. When shame creeps in, I need not to think about what I am, but what I believe in.

I believe in a good God, redeeming me and my family, even when the police are at the front door of my very good and clean home because I don’t know where my children are.

He must increase, but I must decrease. This is a small thread in the unraveling of my unbelief.

What kind of mother am I?

Shame says, you are a very bad mother. What kind of mother loses her children? Don’t ever share this memory, keep it in the dark. Let it fester, and cluster to all the other lies you believe.

The gospel says, when you are weak I am strong.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Can you imagine all of the horrible things that could have happened to my precious three year old daughter and five year old son? Believe me, I have imagined them all.

Can you see how God protected them? How He sustained them? How He brought them back home to me when I was weak? How He used His community of neighbors, police officers, and grace to display His strength and goodness to my family?

If my mom was still here, alongside me in this season of motherhood and this question came up between us… What kind of mother am I? I would answer, I’m an okay mother with a very Good God.

It is only by His grace. As perfection unravels, and I decrease, He increases. His power is perfectly displayed.

What kind of mother are you?

Valentine’s Day Coma

My third year of teaching was the year I watched a completely sweet, wonderful, kind first grader rip open the end of a pixie stick and chug it down. Minutes later, my sweet student, she snapped. The sugar high in full force. Talking a mile a minute, I couldn’t keep up and I couldn’t help but giggle. I can only imagine the Valentine’s Day coma she experienced after her bus ride home.

Currently, I am ten years from that moment with my own four children home from Valentine’s Day parties. My kitchen table covered in tiny notes, lollipop wrappers, tiny treasures, and Fun Dips. Ninety-two if I don’t add teacher Valentines into my classmate count to be exact.

Fun Dips (side note) the equivalent, or possibly worse than, a pixie stick.

I never thought I’d be the mom to let them pile their treasures on the kitchen table, currently my four year old has four lollipop sticks hanging out of her mouth. My heart isn’t fretting the sugar high, followed by the Valentine’s Day sugar coma. In my nine years of mothering four, I’d much rather rip the band aid of V-Day candy off quickly, rather than experience the slow burn of hoarding heart shaped  candy until Easter… okay, maybe until Halloween… some years.

As I survey the ninety-two Valentines on my kitchen table, it’s my own coma I am concerned about.

I’m the mother who purchased the ninety-two Fun Dips. My children’s names are signed on each of them. A Valentine easy on the allergies, and a candy pretty easy for primary aged children to write their names on.

Unfortunately, I have a wandering heart. My heart so prone to wander over to the places where I am more concerned about what others think about the kind of mother I am instead of finding true satisfaction in the fact that I’m the kind of mom  just trying to hold this whole motherhood thing together with a little faith and ninety-two Fun Dips.

As I surveyed the creative Valentines on my kitchen table, the personalized Pinterest Crafts, the beautifully put together goodie bags, my heart compared my pixie stick like Fun Dips to what I saw before me. So easily I saw myself as worse. In my mind I saw myself as judged as the Fun Dip mom.

What is the most important medicine for me and my heart prone to wander is that I am not judged by the kind of Valentines I send to school. I think I am judged, but what I think is simply not true.

I have to be intentional to balm my mind in these moments with the truth of scripture. As I survey my kitchen table and consider my own comparison Valentine’s Day coma, I have to remember it is comparison that steals my joy as a mother.

Scripture is so clear when I battle myself in these moments, ” I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

In my own Fun Dip coma, my truth is, I don’t even judge myself it is the Lord who judges me.

This is the balm I need for my own mind as I battle comparison over the ninety-two Valentines on my table.

I am the Fun Dip mom. I am seen, I am known, and I am deeply loved by God.’

This is the truth I preach to myself as comparison may seep through the cracks. This is the truth I need in my own personal Valentine’s Day coma. Comparison is the thief of joy.

The Fun Dip mom is who I am. And that is simply okay.

Simply A Sojourner

Motherhood has given me several hard seasons. Seasons where I found myself at the end of resources, the end of ideas, the end of sanity, and just holding fast to hope in something Greater than myself. Breastfeeding for the first time, adjusting to newborn sleep schedules, toddler stand-offs, potty training, lying and crying on the floor meltdowns (both adult and child), sibling quarrels, and currently first grade spelling and third grade homework.

This month my first born had his ninth birthday. Ninth. Last year in a single digit age, last year I can consider him as a primary grade student. Halfway to eighteen, ninth birthday.

As I have gulped down the cup I have been given, I have thought about my first born turning nine. My thoughts have turned to how my time with my nine year old as his legal guardian has sifted halfway through the hourglass of our time together. And each year seems to pass more quickly than the one before it.

I have left the physical exhaustion of lifting him, carrying him, feeding him and entered into the emotional exhaustion of fighting for his heart. Of listening to him at bedtime when he is ready to talk and I am ready to pass out. Listening as he talks about his friends,  his budding interest in girls, his compassion for others, his frustrations with injustice, his struggles on the bus ride home, and his knowledge about the energy our world uses to keep the lights on.

I’ve pondered how we got here, through the sweet seasons and the stretching seasons. I’ve realized how I want to hold on to the sand in the hourglass of my time with him. I thought about how I don’t want the hourglass to be halfway empty. I want to be present and see our hourglass as halfway full. Full of memories we’ve build together in the bottom, and full of memories to come in the top. I want the time to slow down, my time with him is sifting though my clenched fingers. My time with all four of my kids is sifting away with each moment.

As I have taken a deep breath in and gazed at my clenched hands, God has brought me to a place where I now know, my job as a mother is not to hold on to the sand in our hourglass of time, gripping on to the moments like I have the power to make time stand still. But instead, release the sand I am trying to hold on to in my clenched hands and clasp my hands together in prayer. To let go of the things I cannot control and simply pray for a heart that is ready for the things in motherhood which lie before me and the things which lie ahead. I know I am not the one in control of time or seasons. In the times and seasons, I simply am an agent of God’s love to the things and people He places in my lap.

“He changes times and seasons” Daniel 2:21

Letting go feels difficult because I deeply desire to be the one in control. In the unclenching of my hands I feel God’s invitation to deeper intimacy and trust in the good and perfect plans He holds for me and for my children.

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In motherhood, I am stilled when I think of the sweet seasons and the stretching seasons and realize, I am simply a sojourner alongside my children in each of them. Each season where I find myself at the edge of sanity, I am only passing through. I am simply a sojourner in the season of holding a newborn, a sojourner sitting on the bathroom floor singing songs and reading books about going pee in the potty, I am a sojourner passing through the seasons of tough toddler stand-offs, endless picture books, spelling lists, and children who need my help with their homework.

My hourglasses of time with each of my children somehow are sifting more and more to the halfway mark, we are halfway and we are full. Full of memories we have built with one another as we have sojourned through the sweet and the stretching.

Yes, I am and will always be mom to all four of my children, but how my children need me in each season will always be changing. As simply a sojourner, all I can do is pray that God gives me what I need in the changing seasons, and hope that God is giving my children what they need as they grow into their own unique little people.

He is the Lord over the times as seasons of their lives. I am sojourning alongside as an agent of His love and grace. In the sweet and the stretching I am a sojourner, just simply passing through.

My Pregnancy and Infant Loss Story

I Am The Girl Slicing and Serving the Wedding Cake

I am twenty-six years old in a banquet room celebrating the marriage of two new friends. I am cutting the wedding cake for their guests, placing the small slices of cake on the plates before me. My husband and nine month old son among the crowd beyond the table.

I am eight weeks pregnant behind the banquet hall table. Feeling excited, scared, and overwhelmed about adding another baby to our tribe. The baby I’m carrying and my son in the crowd beyond the table will only be fifteen months apart.

I am new at motherhood and at the same time motherless myself. My mother has been gone for twelve years at this point. The point in my story where I find myself behind a table in a banquet hall, the girl slicing and serving the wedding cake.

My mother lost her battle to breast cancer when I was young. The combination of newness and motherlessness heavy on my heart during this vulnerable season of holding one baby in my arms while carrying another.

As I slice the pieces of cake and place them on plates suddenly, I can feel emotionally in my heart and physically in my body, something is not right slicing cake behind the table. Suddenly I realize, I am miscarrying this baby while I am slicing and serving wedding cakes in a banquet hall.

I panic. I am in a room filled with people, but immediately I feel alone.

I cannot rush to the privacy of a bathroom stall quickly enough. I cannot sprint although I want to, I am afraid to make a scene. Once I enter the hallway, I cannot even find where the bathroom is located, I am trying to politely ask strangers where to find the restroom behind a false smile on the outside, but inside I am chaotic. Inside, I know I am miscarrying my child.

The immediate heartbreak of loss settling in as I find the public bathroom stall. My thought life chanting ugliness, what is wrong with me lies and I did something wrong anthems. I didn’t eat well enough, I lifted something too heavy, my heart rate was too high at my last workout. The scroll of every single thing I could have done wrong, rolling out before me in the privacy of a public bathroom stall.

Blame and shame both working together to bring my down into the trenches of despair. I feel the shame, there is something wrong with me. And in this bathroom stall, after blame and shame have given me a good beating, I lead myself to believe I am incredibly alone. I lead myself to believe, I am the only one. I lead myself to believe no one else in this world can bear this burden with me.

When my husband comes to me with our nine month old son from the crowd beyond the table, I am already so ashamed of what I feel like I have done. In the few moments in the bathroom stall, I have built walls of self-protection around my heart. I can’t even let my husband come to me. I sit in the car next to him on the long drive back from the wedding. Physically we are inches a part, but emotionally I am light years away.

Loss is familiar to me. I have lost my mother. I have experienced loss, heartache, and pain. At twenty-six years old, in the trenches of despair, the unhealed places in my heart remind me that in my life, people die. In the despair, I cling to my learned behaviors of both apathy and cynicism. In the car, I don’t even know how to cry. I just stare coldly out the window on a gray September day.  My thought life untamed and free to continue the severe beating it started hours before in the bathroom stall.

Once I find myself in an ultrasound room, my doctor confirms, the baby I once carried no longer has a heartbeat. My husband is visibly upset. I now, emotionally comatose.

The pain and loss of my miscarriage very real. But the pain and hurt of years past and learned behaviors enable me to be numb to the pain.

I barely scratch the surface of my pain over this life, precious to me, lost. I pull up my bootstraps and carry on, looking for silver linings but always wondering about the child I lost while I was the girl slicing and serving wedding cake. Always, even in a room full of people, feeling alone in this part of my story. Always wondering what it would have been like to have held that baby in the spring of the following year.

To The Girl Slicing and Serving the Wedding Cake:

Eight years have passed since I lost that baby behind a banquet hall table while slicing and serving wedding cake. Eight years, a second miscarriage, and then three healthy babies born. Babies I have held, four total, if you add that baby with my husband in the crowd beyond the table on that day. Four babies I have nursed, disciplined, potty trained, and walked to the bus stop on gray September days.

My heart still breaks when I think about that September day eight years ago when I was behind a banquet hall table, the girl slicing and serving the wedding cake. How I not only lost a baby that day, but also in that loss how my rote behavior was to retreat to a dark stall, a place where all I felt was loneliness.

Loss does that to you, I know that too well now. Loss is a shame breeding ground for I am alone in this lies. Loss, a shame breeding ground for no one else will understand anthems.

As I think about this moment, and prayerfully consider this painful moment in the life of a woman, there are three things I know now in hindsight that I wish I would have known then as the girl slicing and serving wedding cake behind the table in the room of a banquet hall.

1.) You are not alone in your loss. 

Satan wants you to feel alone. Satan wants us to feel disconnected from the ones who breathe life back into our souls. In loneliness, Satan’s power over my own patterns of self-destruction were at work. In my loneliness, I heard the lies I believe loud and clear, and the hope of the gospel was a faint whisper.

Statistically, one in four women will experience pregnancy and infant loss in some form or another. The more I stepped out of my dark bathroom stall of shame and entered into conversations with my husband and other women who have lost babies as well, the more I was able to identify the threads of pain in my story. I was not able to heal from my pain after my two miscarriages until I could identify the threads which were causing pain in the first place.

I blamed myself for that baby being lost behind that table. I carried the weight of that burden for so long. For weeks, months, and even years I let my mind wonder, what if I would have not eaten that slice of deli meat, or what if I had not forgotten my vitamin that day. What if I was sitting instead of standing. All these things were too much for my heart to bear alone.

I needed others to speak truth to me when truth was a faint whisper behind the loud clamoring of my own patterns of self-destruction. I needed others to remind me, the loss of this baby was not because of anything I did or did not do. When I was the girl behind the table slicing and serving wedding cakes, I needed the courage to step out of the bathroom stall where I took a harsh blame and shame beating, and into the arms of others alongside me.

Although I felt alone, I was never alone at all.

2.) Just because you are not alone in your loss, does not mean you are merely a statistic. 

Just because other women have experienced pregnancy and infant loss does not mean you are merely a statistic. Your story is unique. Your baby was unique. Your pain and your grief journey will be unique. Other women may have shared a similar experience, but other women and their experiences alone, cannot remedy your unique pain. Other women can simply sit in the darkness of pregnancy and infant loss alongside you, while you wait to walk through the stages of grief in God’s healing time table made uniquely for you.

It is normal to experience shock, denial, anger, and sadness in the wake of pregnancy and infant loss. It is emotionally healthy to let yourself grieve. Vulnerability is strength. Tears are strength. Holding fast to the hope of the cross is strength, especially when the answers to the why and what if questions of life seem to go unanswered.

3.) I know a God Who knows suffering understands the pain of loss.

When the truth of the gospel is no longer a faint whisper, I can remember I know a God Who knows suffering and loss. I know a God Who sent His own Son to die on the cross. I know a God Who experienced separation from His own Son.

This is how I ultimately find true healing, by drawing near to the One Who knows suffering. This healing doesn’t come at the snap of a finger, nor at the pulling up of a bootstrap. This healing is a slow unraveling of my unbelief as I draw near to God in prayer, and read His promises to me in His Word. This unraveling is messy, jagged, and unorganized. This is the kind of healing that comes from brokenness, when I have no clean and clear answers, but simply open and needy hands.

God is near to the brokenhearted. Psalm 38:14

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

One day, God will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, because God is going to make everything new. Revelation 21:4

I don’t need to know all the answers to why this happened. I simply need to trust God, even when I cannot see. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

I can rest freely in Jesus. Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Jesus is gentle and humble in heart. Jesus is where we can find rest for our souls. Matthew 11:28-30

This is a sliver of my pregnancy and infant loss story. There are pieces here I still have yet to uncover as I walk in this life. But I truly believe there are deep healing powers in the gift of opening up the chapters of our lives and letting others truly see us. There is healing power as we share our story and healing power as we listen to the unique stories of others. The more we open ourselves up and let ourselves be seen, the more we realize we are never alone.

To The Woman In The Target Parking Lot

Today, I saw you in the Target parking lot. I was pulling into Costco in my regular Tasmanian Devil like, chaotic fashion. Swirling around to complete the things which I had signed up to do in love.

I am coming off a hot argument with my husband before he left for a long day of regional travel, a healthy, but hot tension between lovers. Not to mention, a morning of battling a washer which blows the breaker every time is spins, and picking up the itty-bitty pieces of paper off the floor from my developing three and five year old scissor users.

I’m like the Tasmanian Devil flying into Costco today. Mostly because I’m still hot with anger from the previously mentioned tension between lovers… and also, picking up anything tiny off of the floor gives me hives.

Partially I’m all Tasmainian Devilish because I signed up to bring a new mama, to a tribe of now six, a meal. This meal, the thing I signed up to do in love. This meal, intensely important. As a mama to four, I know this meal,  is survival to this sweet mama. This meal must get to her. I am also her tribe. She needs food, Costco-sized and because I know how important this meal is, I will fight through the battles of my tension between lovers and itty-bitty pieces of paper to get it to her. Lord knows, a new mama needs Costco-sized food.

I know my Tasmanian Devil behavior is only external. Within my own heart, despite the outward things happening, inwardly I am feeling shame over bringing this new mama a pre-made meal from Costco instead of the homemade chicken enchilada casserole I had initially planned to bring her when I first signed up. A battle I felt tension over, every moment until I saw you in the Target parking lot.

As I pulled into Costco with crazy eyes, I, by the grace of God, spotted you. You were wrapping a present on the hood of your car. I loved you at first sight. Truly. I even took a second and third glance your way while smiling with my lips as well as with my inner being.

You quite possibly could have been wrapping a present for Christmas 2020. But by the grace of God, I saw you. I saw you wrapping a present on the hood of your car and this was a sweet reminder to me of humanity.

Your wrapping the present on the hood of your car, a simple reminder. We are all facing battles. Spoken and unspoken. Macro things and micro things. On a macro level, we are all feeling the weight of politics, race, Puerto Rico, and Las Vegas. We are all feeling the tension of gun laws, hurricane relief, and who should stand or kneel for what reason while the National Anthem is sung. We are all feeling these macro-tensions within our hearts.

On a micro level, most of us experience the hot arguments, the tension between lovers, and can hardly keep the itty-bitty pieces of paper from accumulating on our household floors.

You could have been advance planning. You were radiant, put together. Your car was immaculate. You could have been wrapping for an event far off in the future.

Your presence in the parking lot of Target today, soothed my Tasmanian Devil like behavior. Seeing you wrap a present on the hood of your car, glacing back twice and thrice,  quieted the battles of my heart. This act in the parking lot of Target, quieted the battles I had over my own expectations for this meal.

Homemade, pre-made. We are all human, and we are all trying to love one another amidst the macro and micro battles going on in our hearts. We are all wrapping presents on the hoods of our cars. We are all trying to love despite our Tasmanian Devil like chaos.

To love in the Tasmanian Devil like chaos is better than to stick to appearing perfect and to not love at all.

To the woman in the Target parking lot, thank you for wrapping a present on the hood of your car. It was medicine for my own heart. When I saw you, I saw myself wrapping presents on the hood of cars and this simple thing quieted my soul.